Eldercare Expert Joy Loverde on Preparing for Our Later Years…..

.....and Those of Others

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Joy Loverde and I met in Chicago in the 1990s, a time when we were both traveling the country, navigating the speaking circuit. With glistening silver hair and a spunky way about her, Joy mesmerized audiences with a sobering message, namely, that many of us will one day be confronted with how to support our aging parents. 

Having lost both my mother and father in the 90s her message truly resonated with me. Recently, I had the chance to reconnect with Joy about how her journey in the eldercare space has evolved over the years along with an update on the books she has written

Diamond-Michael: Joy, take us back to the very beginning of how you got started in the eldercare space. 

Joy: My journey began in high school in 1966.  I went to an all-girls Catholic high school which is the reason I turned out so strict. I didn’t know anybody, no one really does during their first year which can be uncomfortable.  In any event, my homeroom teacher walks into class one fall morning and says, “Who’s going to go to the nursing home with me as a volunteer?”  And I raised my hand because I was looking for extra credit.  I was like, “yeah.” That’s when I realized that my life was going to take on a uniquely different course. 

Diamond-Michael: Can you share more with us about this experience? 

Joy: I remember this like it was yesterday. It was on Thanksgiving morning.  When we arrived there were literally seven people sitting in the dark. It’s Thanksgiving morning, Michael and I’m thinking, “how did they end up here?  Where are their families?  How come no one’s cooking them turkey?” What’s going on here? At 14, I have no conception of what’s really going on here.  

Diamond-Michael: What were you feeling at the end of this experience? 

Joy: Upon concluding the day, what’s running through my mind is, “I’m going home to a house full of people, a huge Italian family that loves and cares about me.” I could not get that image out of my head for a very, very long time. Later, during my adult years, I ended up working at J. Walter Thompson, one of the largest advertising agencies in the world where I learned about marketing and communication. But the vision of those people sitting in the dark next left me. 

Diamond-Michael: All of this eventually led to your first book. Tell us a little about that. 

Joy: In 2000 I applied all that I knew about good communication and put it in a book called, “The Complete Eldercare Planner.” It was intended as a way to get people to start talking to each other and about the future. I was moved to pursue this based on the aforementioned story I told about those seven people sitting in the dark on Thanksgiving morning in their old age. In my mind they ended up in this predicament because no one had a conversation with them about what to do.

Diamond-Michael: As I mentioned to you, your advice was invaluable to me back when my mom was in the midst of her cancer journey. Can you share a bit about what’s in the book for those facing a similar scenario? 

My goal with the book was to provide solutions for the caregiving tasks we often face as well as the complicated maze of eldercare services at our disposal. It provides access to downloadable checklists, worksheets, step-by-step action plans, lists of questions to ask, low-cost, and other indispensable resources you may need along the way. This Document Locator™ helps you address a number of different issues that often surface when supporting an older adult parent including: 

•Getting started on creating a long-term care plan

•Finding help, especially if you live far away

•Managing the financial aspects

•Talking to elders about sensitive subjects

•Senior housing–move or stay put?

•Managing medications

•And many other topics of vital interest to anyone caring for an elder

​​

Diamond-Michael: So what is the overriding messaging you are looking to provide to readers? 

That we have a communication problem.  We don’t have a healthcare problem, rather there’s a communication problem between family members. That’s the crux of the issue when dealing with aging parents. 

Diamond-Michael: Joy, I have you to thank for helping me during my Mom’s final days amid her journey with cancer. I recall how uncomfortable I was in having the very conversations you are mentioning here. But I got up the courage to do it and it truly made a difference in managing this very difficult life event. 

Joy: ​Oh, you’re warming my heart, Michael, because I never know what impact I’m having on people. This validation of your own experience makes me feel that I’m doing my job as an advocate.  

Diamond-Michael: So how has the book evolved over the years? 

Joy: The Complete Eldercare Planner is in its last edition as of 2009. Can you believe that it's been through six editions already! ​But it is still selling just fine and is still quite relevant even today.  Because it mainly consists of questions we need to ask and. So if I am offered the opportunity to do another edition, which I am hoping will be the case, the primary emphasis will be on updating the resource section.

Diamond-Michael: I’m curious about what sorts of additional things you might be adding or updating given the times that we’re in. 

Joy: I’ll address issues like what to do if nursing homes are not an option. And, of course, we all know about the caregiver shortage.  So, how do we get help now? Then there are the new things on the market, particularly related to technology. One area I’m planning to talk a lot about is robots and the support they can offer in terms of caregiving. 

Diamond-Michael: Oh, really?

​Joy: Yep, there’s a lot of cool stuff that’s happening. So I’m hoping to have the opportunity to update the book.  Things definitely have evolved since the book first came out in 1995 during my time as one of the early pioneers in opening the eyes of corporate America.  But since then some very interesting things started to happen. 

Diamond-Michael: Please share

Joy: While onsite doing corporate workshops, people started coming up to me and saying, “you know, I’m taking all of this in for my mom and dad, and this is great and everything.  But I started having the thought, who’s going to take care of me when it’s my turn?

They’re telling me, “I don’t have children.  I’m not married and don’t plan to be. So who is going to take care of me when I’m old?”  That’s when the lightbulb immediately went off. ​I thought, “that’s the title of my next book.”

Diamond-Michael: So that’s when you wrote “Who Will Take Care of Me When I'm Old?: Plan Now to Safeguard Your Health and Happiness in Old Age? 

Joy: Yes, but I had to wait a little bit because 10 years ago when this idea first surfaced was way too soon.  Too many people were still dealing with eldercare on a big scale.  But in a few years, the timing became right.

Diamond-Michael: What do you explore in the book? 

Joy: For those who have no support system in place, the thought of aging without help can be a frightening, isolating prospect. So my main message is that growing old does not have to be an inevitable decline into helplessness. In other words, it’s possible to maintain a good quality of life in your later years if you have a plan in place. “Who Will Take Care of Me When I'm Old” equips listeners with everything they need to prepare on their own. Specifically, it looks at: 

  • Advice on the tough medical, financial, and housing decisions to come

  • Real solutions to create a support network

  • Questions about aging solo listeners don't know to ask

  • Customizable worksheets and checklists that help keep plans on course

Diamond-Michael: What sorts of new learning are informing your path forward as an advocate for the care of older adults? 

Joy: Living to 90 isn’t a stretch anymore.  ​So, many of us are having to plan for 30 more years than we’re typically used to. The good news is that the resources are evolving with things like financial planning and long-term care insurance. 

Diamond-Michael: So given this new reality, what do we need to be mindful of? 

Joy: Sure the resources are there, many of which are listed in both of my books.  There are literally hundreds and hundreds. But that’s not the point.  The point is, how do we create a quality relationship with our resources, the people that are there to support us on the journey?  We have to begin that process now.

George W Gibbs, Jr. and His Historic Trek to Antarctica

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“Anchored this morning in the Bay of Whales, digging holes in the ice with picks and shovels. This was the only way of tying the ship up along the ice. . . . When the Bear came up to the ice close enough for me to get ashore, I was the first man aboard the ship to set foot in Little America and help tie her lines deep into the snow. I met Admiral Byrd; he shook my hand and welcomed me to Little America and for being the first Negro to set foot in Little America.” —George W. Gibbs Jr., January 14, 1940

Few are familiar with the name George W Gibbs, Jr, the first Black person to set foot on the continent of Antarctica. Having sailed on the infamous USS Bear from 1939 to 1941, Gibbs was a member of Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s III expedition to the South Pole, widely considered the first collaborative project in history between the United States military and a private exploratory team. 

With his crowning achievement, Gibbs left an important mark on humanity, breaking down barriers for not only people of color but demonstrating the importance of a more human, environmentally sensitive world. 

Now in a book entitled The Call of Antarctica: Exploring and Protecting Earth's Coldest Continent released on October 5th author  Leilani Raahshida Henry offers a deep plunge into the historical legacy of her late father. 

In the book’s forward, Ted Scambos, senior research scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder and a veteran of twenty expeditions to Antarctica and the Southern Ocean to study the ice and the impacts of climate change offers a profoundly loving tribute to Gibbs and his contribution to the continent. He writes: 

“This book is a brief introduction to the continent of Antarctica and its surrounding ocean, an overview of its history, and a sample of the science behind how the continent works. It touches upon Antarctica’s geology, biology, and environment. As a way of discovering more about the continent, we follow the story of a member of a past Antarctic expedition—the American George W. Gibbs Jr. In 1940, at twenty-three years of age, Gibbs was the first Black man to set foot on the continent.”

Scambos says that Gibbs experienced myriad inner and outer discoveries on his journey noting that he “had the adventure of his lifetime, and he embraced his role as a part of a diverse team.”

“He saw landscapes and wildlife that awed him. He felt the burn of racial discrimination, but he also knew interracial teamwork and harmony. He saw how other nations put less importance on skin color and more importance on fellowship. These experiences shaped him and set him on a course to become a civic leader and civil rights advocate in his state and nation. Above all, his example shows the power of outlook, attitude, and optimism. No matter the situation, Gibbs steered clear of resentment and focused on experiences and on being present. He appreciated every aspect of his journey, inward and outward, and spoke about the experience for the rest of his life. He felt the call of Antarctica.” 

In a recent interview with “Great Books, Great Minds” author Leilani Henry shared pieces of her research and writing journey in unearthing her father’s story to the world. She says that while it’s a book about her father, the greater hope is that readers will walk away with a more in-depth understanding of Antarctica and its profound environmental importance to the world. 

Henry had this to say when asked about her decision to write the book:

“Honestly, I was expecting my father to write the book. For many years, he had expressed this intent but kept delaying, saying that he was waiting for more information. And I never could understand why he needed more [Laughter] about his life. I mean, sure he was in his eighties so I get that he might need a memory jog. But his continual deflections made no sense. And then he passed away.” 

According to Henry, before he passed away he had commissioned a journalist to help him. She was an editor at one of the local newspapers with who he had hit it off after she’d done a beautiful feature piece about his life and Antarctica. The two grew very close so he commissioned her to write the book. 

Says Henry—

“After he passed away I went to her and said, ‘“thank you for agreeing to write my father’s story.  Let’s do this. What else do you need, let’s do this. And she says, “well, I decided to start a family and so I’m not going to be able to write this book. While I sat stunned, she then proceeded to gather all of the stuff they had prepared in order to give back to me.”

Henry admitted that she was quite crushed at first before coming to the realization that this was a golden opportunity to step into her family’s legacy. 

“At that point I felt it made sense for me to do this rather than having someone outside of the family, even though the person my father had commissioned was a close friend. So that is what actually sparked me to write the book.” 

Over the course of her writing journey, Henry says that the book morphed several times as she tried to clarify the narrative and filled in all of the historical holes of her father’s quest. A big breakthrough, however, came when her mother found her father’s travel diaries behind the dresser after a residential move. Exclaimed Henry:

“That's when I realized that  ‘OK, this is what he meant when he kept saying that he lost all of his materials and needed more information.’ So now I am in possession of two of his diaries.” 

Asked about the contents of the diaries, Henry added this: 

“In one of his diaries, he wrote every day for six months, chronicling his round trip from Boston to Antarctica and back. And then there was the second journal, where he didn’t write. It was about his trek from Philadelphia by way of New Zealand to Antarctica and then back to Philadelphia. So with all of this material, my first thought was to write a biography. And then I thought I would write about the expedition because there wasn’t anything out there about that event.” 

In terms of whether she had visited Antarctica in an attempt to retrace some of her father’s steps, Henry had this to say: 

“I have been and that was one of the things that helped me finish the book after having stopped and started it many times.”

She admits that writing the book was one of the hardest things she has ever achieved in her life:

“Honestly, writing the book was so, so very hard. But despite how challenging it was,  I discovered on that trip that I had a deep desire to complete it as I really did care deeply about the project. Moreover, I fell in love with Antarctica which was really cool.”

Henry says that one of the biggest discoveries she encountered while completing the book was the deep connection between the people who were on the ship her father was on. 

“Over time, I started realizing that the people on the ship had built lifelong relationships and connections between them. And those who didn’t have a lifelong relationship with Antarctica. Many of them, in fact, had passed on their experiences to their descendants. So I went and I met with or communicated with a number of them along with some of the very people that were on the ship.” 

In concluding our conversation, she shared her greatest hope in terms of what readers of the book walk away with: 

“I hope that they are excited about the message around what it will take to protect Antarctica. I also hope that it will inspire  scientists of color who are interested in polar science or find encouragement in seeing that as a career.” 

The Perils of Being “On The Clock”

By Neale Orinick, Senior Contributing Writer

After finishing On the Clock by journalist Emily Guendelsberger I will never order a product from Amazon, talk to someone in a call center, or eat at McDonald’s again without thinking about this book. In fact, On The Clock should be required reading for all Americans to better understand the dehumanizing and debilitating affect the use of technology to increase efficiency and profits has on people.

Guendelsberg, a former editor for The Onion, found herself unemployed when the small-town newspaper she worked for shut down. She took the opportunity to research what the day-to-day experiences were like for low-wage workers in 2016 by going to work in an Amazon fulfillment center, call center, and at a McDonald’s. What she endured, observed, and recounts will resonate with those who have ever worked in those kinds of occupations (or still are) and make anyone in a white-collar “skilled” position rethink just how good they have it.

Amazon

The pain medication dispensing vending machine seemed odd when Guendelsberg first saw it as a new hire at an Amazon warehouse in Southern Indiana. By day three on the job she was desperately waving her employee ID at it trying to get some relief for her swollen, burning feet and legs that had given out on her earlier in the day. 

Amazon fulfillment center employees work mainly in two positions, picking or packing. Guendelsberger chose to pick, figuring walking to get items was better than standing in place all day packing orders into boxes for shipping. She had prepared herself for lots of walking before applying, or so she thought. On an average day, Amazon pickers cover between 13 and 16 miles, bending and squatting to retrieve items from large drawers using an electronic scanner for nearly 11 hours a day. 

Sounds simple, but the scanner is not just for finding items. It tracks your whereabouts at all times so the company knows when you are in the bathroom and for how long. It also counts down the seconds or minutes it takes you to find an item and beeps incessantly if you are taking longer than the time allotted to retrieve a particular item and rush off to get the next one. 

One of Guendelsberg’s supervisors tells her, “there’s always an eye out there on you.

“The ‘eye’ isn’t cameras-it’s the scanner gun former workers talked about, which wirelessly uploads your location and how long it’s been since your last bar-code scan in real-time. If you’re going too slow, the scanner will display a message telling you so. If you go too slow too often, a ‘coach’ will come to find you to tell you in person.”

By day three Guendelsberg is in so much pain from hiking the vast aisles of the fulfillment center retrieving items that, “my body mutinies.” She finds herself on the floor viewing her grotesquely swollen feet with horror and realizing she has already downed almost an entire bottle of pain medication with several hours left to go on her shift. Her scanner relentlessly beeps with increasing intensity to remind her that she is going too slow between scans. 

Due to careful planning by Amazon, nobody finds her crying on the floor, nobody comes by to offer her a hand up. Isolation is intentional to keep people from chatting even briefly, thus slowing their productivity.

“Keeping us isolated makes logical sense because the alleys between shelves are so narrow. But it also eliminates the opportunity for inefficient workplace chatter, which I am convinced is a goal rather than a side effect.”

The author readily admits she expected some pain and fatigue, but not the soul-crushing agony of walking 15 or more miles a day doing hundreds of squats to retrieve items, day after day after day, most of it spent alone under duress to hurry at all times lest the scanner starts beeping ominously at you to move faster or risk being fired.

Despite the physical pain, boredom and isolation, she knows she has it easier than most of the co-workers she started with as a new hire (many of which vanish within a week or two). Most of the pickers she sees are past retirement age or parents of young children with an evening full of chores ahead of them before they can rest. She is flabbergasted by the heavily pregnant women picking and knows her heavy-duty supportive work shoes stick out when everybody else is wearing cheap old sneakers. 

“Despite all my research I’m embarrassingly unprepared for what “normal” means outside of the white-collar world, and I have grossly misjudged what $10.50 an hour is worth to a lot of people. I expected the pain. I expected the monotony. I hadn’t expected so many people to regard this as a decent job.”

Until her time at Amazon, the author never realized that having your breaks timed to the second, working through pain and illness and constant monitoring would be normal to so many. 

After another exhausting day, Guendelsberg is starving and anxious for a fast food meal and bed, when she spies one of the few coworkers she started with, Darryl, huddling at the bus stop in freezing cold. She briefly considers offering him a ride, but the thought of even that slight delay from getting something to eat and falling into bed is too much to contemplate. 

“Fuck Darryl.”

“So I pretend not to see him. I find it hard to explain the needling shame I still feel about this. It’s not a big deal and I’m positive Darryl wouldn’t hold it against me. But I like to think of myself as someone who would offer a nice kid a ride home after a truly shitty day of work. Right now, though, exhaustion has shrunk my circle of empathy to the point that it is hardly big enough for myself. I didn’t know this could happen, and it is not pleasant. I guess I never realized that this might affect more than just my body.”

As she drives away the realization that she is blessed to come from the upper class and won’t ever really know what it feels like to work for most of your life in a job where every second must be accounted for, isolation is deliberate and under the constant threat of being fired for moving too slowly or taking too long of a bathroom break. 

“I take one more look at Darryl in my rearview mirror. I could still go back. But in the place I would usually feel empathy, there’s just a shameful, overwhelming relief, and the words, ‘I get to leave.’”

Research

On The Clock is not just about slamming Amazon, call centers, or fast-food restaurants. It is an exposé on how huge corporations are increasingly using technology to drive their employees harder, to squeeze as much work out of them as possible at the lowest possible wage. 

It is also a history lesson in Taylorism defined by Merriam-Webster as:

“A factory management system developed in the late 19th century to increase efficiency by evaluating every step in a manufacturing process and breaking down production into specialized repetitive tasks.”

While that sounds benign it is actually a system to eliminate the need for most skills and keep workers in monotonous positions doing the same thing over and over again, day in and day out while justifying paying them so little but expecting them to work at breakneck speed for hours at a time. 

“But Taylorism had no ceiling. Its combination of objective-seeming data analysis, specific productivity goals, monitoring, and deskilling was the system factories had been desperate for. By conceiving of workers as numbers in an equation rather than individual humans, Taylor made it possible for companies to expand enormously, employing thousands and even millions of workers without losing control over them.

Taylor’s results could be incredible but left a trail of discontent behind him. Men complained of overwork, exhaustion, and the mind-numbing monotony of this new kind of work.” 

Henry Ford, the father of the modern automobile, also gets a few paragraphs and his glowing legacy dims a bit when you realize how he contributed to today’s business model of overworking employees with the lowest compensation possible creating a workplace with high demands but little reward for the efforts of the workers. 

Convergys

When you call about a billing issue for a new smartphone contract, dishwasher repair, etc, you will most likely be routed to a huge call center like Convergys in Hickory, North Carolina. Author Emily Guendelsberger worked on the AT&T call center floor where she spent two weeks training to learn how to toggle between several different screens and read scripts but basically be unable to really do anything for anyone who calls in. 

Because call center employees do not actually work for AT&T they do not have real access to anyone’s account,  cannot issue refunds, or change the minutes of usage allowed on your phone, for example. All they can do is read a script and make notes in the account. While reading the script and typing notes toggling between multiple screens she was expected to remain upbeat, friendly, and apologetic for whatever problem the person was calling in about.

Understandably call center workers are routinely screamed at, cussed at, called really despicable names, and even threatened. 

Also, understandably, turnover is incredible. People come and go with breathtaking regularity. Despite the fact that training a new employee takes upwards of two weeks the author muses as to why Convergys doesn’t do more to ensure a better work environment to keep employees instead of constantly replacing them. 

Instead, the company monitors how long employees spend on a bathroom break. Taking too long in the bathroom or being a minute or two late back from your break is considered “stealing time from the company.”

“Imagine having to put a code into your phone when you go to the toilet and then have a weekly meeting with your supervisor where you have to justify 1.2 minutes above the average toilet break allocated to you last week.”

While not as physically demanding as working at Amazon, in some ways the author found call center work more damaging because of the mental stress.

“Amazon workers complained about the physical stress of techno-Taylorism. But an alarming number of call-center reps mentioned experiencing mental stress, citing their jobs as the direct cause of intense bouts of depression and anxiety as well as ulcers and other physical effects of stress. I could, unfortunately, fill yet another twenty pages with stories from reps who said their jobs had driven them to seriously consider self-harm or suicide.”

The simple solution would be, it seems, is to just get another job. For those living in Hickory, NC, the jobs are limited and most have gone from one low-paying labor-intensive job to another since the good-paying jobs at the furniture factories were lost to international trade deals like NAFTA years ago. 

“The cost of living in Hickory is pretty cheap but a breadwinner here still has to make a minimum of $20 an hour to support a stay-at-home parent and one child. “ (Base pay at Convergys is $10.50 per hour) 

The ladies the author is living with while working at the call center both work there as well and have a daughter. They drive 40 minutes each way to a grandparent’s house five days a week because they can’t afford paid childcare even though they both work. 

“Welfare made up some of the difference for a few months after McKenna was born but Jess hated feeling like she was sitting around taking handouts. So she decided to go back to a work decision that makes no logical or financial sense.” 

McDonald’s

If you have ever wondered about the constant sound of alarms going off at most fast-food restaurants, wonder no more. Every task is timed. Alarms blare constantly throughout each shift to warn workers that they are not working fast enough. No matter how short-staffed or how long the line, at McDonald’s the alarms do not take anything into account, because to reach maximum productivity you must make a milkshake, flip a dozen burgers or reload frozen fries into the fryer in the time allowed or face being written up for going too slow. 

The entire work model at the McDonald’s in San Francisco where the author worked is based on only having enough employees so that everyone has to work at maximum efficiency, without pause, no room for mistakes under constant pressure. If 10 could run the kitchen comfortably only five people will be scheduled. 

Hostile customers who resent waiting in line, pranksters demanding secret sauce, and a vengeful honey-mustard packet flinging woman are all in a day’s work for the average fast-food employee. 

Part of the reason for this is:

“-in November 0f 2014 voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure that would gradually raise San Francisco’s minimum wage to $15. San Francisco has universal paid sick leave, and the biggest retail and fast-food companies can’t schedule their San Francisco employees the way companies do most everywhere else. It’s an attempt to disincentivize common practices like (A) employing a large staff of part-timers or temps instead of a smaller staff of full-timers to avoid paying for benefits and (B) scheduling in a way that’s nice and flexible for the company but leaves workers unable to plan their lives more than a couple of days in advance.”

So the take-away is, despite the goodwill of voters passing a law to increase minimum wage large companies go to great lengths to keep profits the same or grow simply by keeping staff to a minimum and expectations at maximum. Scheduling is done by algorithms that predict how much business will come in and the bare number of employees needed to meet it. If one or two employees call in sick, well, those who do show up just have to work that much harder to keep up with demand.

“Understaffing is the new staffing.”

“Exhausted workers and impatient customers tend to create a feedback loop of frustration and negativity that makes for a really miserable day.”

Summary

One of the reasons I consumed this novel eagerly is how much sense it makes about the current labor shortage in this country. While the author’s experiences were all pre-COVID they explain why so many restaurants, call centers, and stores are desperately short of employees. 

Many fast food places operate ghost kitchens, offering only delivery or take-out with no in-house dining, have shortened their hours of operation, and are even closed one or two days a week.  Despite offering significantly higher starting hourly pay, places like Noodles & Company only get one or two applicants a month and if one actually shows up for an interview it’s a miracle. 

Walkthrough any mall or shopping center and you will see “we’re hiring” signs in every storefront. Outrageously long hold times are the norm whenever you call about a billing issue or want to schedule a repair service and you often have to wait weeks for the appointment. 

It was predicted that with federal supplemental unemployment relief checks ending in September people would start running back to work in fast food joints, call centers, factories, and warehouses, but that just hasn’t happened. Even with higher wages offered many workers are reluctant to return to the monotony, stress, and anxiety of working for a large corporation under constant duress to work harder, faster, and longer hours, trading their lives for a small paycheck that barely allows for a roof over their head and food on the table. 

If you pick up a copy of On The Clock, and I highly recommend you do, don’t skip the footnotes. Lots of juicy stuff tucked in at the bottom of the pages. It might also inspire some compassion when you are feeling impatient waiting for your Big Mac or to dispute a billing issue with your new tablet or smartphone remembering that you are talking to an actual human being, not a robot, who is probably under a tremendous amount of stress to meet unrealistic productivity standards and go home at the end of an exhausting day with little to show for it.

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Neale Orinick is a Denver-based writer, wordsmith, and book aficionado who loves red wine and dark chocolate. You can find more about her work at Noted by Neale Orinick dot com

Women-Led Slave Revolts In Graphic Detail

By Guest Contributor Kris Wood

My experience with graphic novels is twofold: One, my son reads manga on occasion. I read them first or alongside him. And two, my all-time favorite book series, Outlander, came out with one 15 years after I discovered the series.  

Despite the artfully composed images of this series, it felt like a cartoon version of my beloved characters/storylines.  The graphic novel made everything feel flat, linear, and two-dimensional.  More so because the drawings did not depict the characters as I had envisioned them.  

Wake, The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts by Dr. Rebecca Hall changed my entire perspective on graphic novels. Part memoir, Wake tells the story of women-led slave revolts through Hall's efforts to unearth the truth about these iconic women warriors whose story, until now, had been pushed to the margins. 

For me, the illustrations by aspiring comic book artist Hugo Martinez brought the narrative to life and drew me into the journey. Additionally, the author inserted herself into the storyline which gave the discoveries of these women-led revolts more visual and emotional engagement and impact.  

Following the footsteps of these women who history deemed unimportant prevented Ms. Hall from being able to recount an epic saga of any particular woman or family due to a lack of documentation. Consequently, the information available and shared is fragmented and brief, albeit powerful and enlightening.  

The graphic novel format was a profound way to share this piece of history. Of the many paths Dr. Hall pursues in her research, she perseveres in finding historical documentation that “there were women warriors involved in wars, women from many different nations and ethnic groups fighting to protect their villages from slave traders” throughout West Africa.  

By way of example, Dr. Hall showed diagrams of how the slave traders stowed the African captives…as “things to be stored, shipped and sold”.  She shows how the lower deck of a ship held the human cargo, 292 slaves, packed elbow-to-elbow, feet-to-head to maximize space.  

In the chapter entitled “Insurrection of Cargo”, when referencing how many captives died in transit from either jumping or being thrown overboard, Dr. Hall quotes this chilling excerpt: 

Sound waves travel so slowly underwater and the ocean is so vast, sounds can last centuries underwater. Maybe, if we listen carefully, we can hear them.”

Through her extensive research at Liverpool’s Maritime Archives, Dr. Hall uncovered travel logs that indicate that there was at least 1 revolt at sea per every 10 voyages and that the more women on board a slave ship, the greater likelihood for a revolt. 

Why?  How was this possible?  Per the report of the Lords of the Privy Council, 1789:  The slave, if a man, is put in irons on the main deck; if a boy, he is put on the main deck loose; if a woman or girl, they are placed without irons on the quarter deck. The women, therefore, took advantage of their ability to move somewhat freely about the ship to access weapons, planning and initiating one revolt after another. 

In the end captives, women and men alike chose to fight and die rather than survive the horrors of slavery.  Demoralizing and heart-wrenching, Wake shows us the toll that gathering this data had on Dr. Hall and the absolute necessity of taking a break to reconnect with the good in the world, to regain balance and purpose.  Looking at more “mainstream” historical recounts of our country’s treatment and perception of these captives furthered the emotional turmoil, such as this excerpt from Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of VA, dated 1785…

A black, after hard labor through the day, will be induced by the slightest amusements to sit up till midnight, or later, though knowing he must be out with the first dawn of the morning.  They are at least as brave and more adventuresome, but this may perhaps proceed from a want of forethought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be present.  Their griefs are transient…in general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection.”

Could it be these “blacks” he refers to were fostering a sense of community and compassion amongst one another at any opportunity regardless if it made them less productive to their white masters/enslavers? Truly, who would choose to go to bed early every night to ensure a good night’s rest so you can be abused, tortured, and worked to death the following day? Wouldn’t any one of us choose to join together, even at midnight, to share stories, grief, love, and support in order to survive another day?!  

The audacity of those in power, then and now, is appalling.  What’s disconcerting when reading accounts like this is that this isn’t ancient history, something that happened hundreds and hundreds of years ago.  Slavery was still present in the US two centuries ago…TWO!  

That’s just a couple of generations; it’s that close to our present.  Recent enough that maybe if we listen hard enough, the screams and cries from those souls who died at sea can still be heard. We can then pay them homage by addressing and changing the narrative…it’s the least we can do.

Woke Up With a Question For You

Thank you for being a loyal subscriber to “Great Books, Great Minds,” a digital newsletter where we embrace books as the new currency of human connection. My name is Diamond-Michael Scott, your global book ambassador.

This morning, I was prompted to ask the following question based on an excerpt I read in Reid Hoffman’s fabulous new book “Masters of Scale.” Here goes:

What sort of perfect picture articles would excite, shock, and move you to tell every single person you encounter about “Great Books, Great Minds”?

Will you kindly respond in the comment section below by this Friday, October 8th? Best response wins a $25.00 gift card to my Bookshop digital bookstore.

In the meantime, stay thirsty for a great book,

Diamond-Michael Scott, Global Book Ambassador

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